Human trafficking and modern slavery undercut human rights, dignity, democratic freedoms, and moral principles. It is one of the vilest forms of exploitation known. Global leaders have yet to give this scourge the attention and commitment to action it demands.
There’s a chance to do so this weekend, at the June 28-29 G20 Summit in Osaka. The G20, which at its core is a meeting to discuss key issues in the global economy, cannot ignore this blight that darkens and undermines the safe, fair, and free functioning of the world’s global trade system.
The scale of suffering is unconscionable. Victims of human trafficking and modern slavery number more than 40 million. People are bought, sold, traded; forced to work against their will, sexually exploited, and forced into non-consensual marriages. Human organs are harvested and trafficked.
The trafficking of children for begging, forced criminality or sexual exploitation, including online, is a crime against humanity that must be confronted. Women and girls face unique challenges and vulnerabilities representing over 72 percent of identified trafficked victims.
Trafficking occurs within countries, but is especially rampant on migratory routes and in refugee camps. Migrants and refugees easily become trapped in situations of labor or sexual exploitation to pay off smugglers. According to Europol, members of criminal networks facilitate travel of 90 percent of migrants who reach the European Union. In the Gulf States, abuse of worker sponsorship systems is well-documented and an example of how labor migration can lead to exploitative situations.
Multilateral commitment to eradicating the evils of human trafficking and modern slavery has been articulated often and in many places, including in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet the industry continues to prevail as a low-risk, high gain enterprise that generates an annual profit of over $150 billion. Despite the fact these issues affect society at large, only 0.4 per cent of victims are identified and the conviction rate for a blatant crime is at an even lower percentage. Some nations, even in Europe, have yet to convict a single trafficker or confiscate a dollar of the US$150 billion illicit gain.
What can be done to translate global and national commitments into action?
Focusing much more sharply on the root causes and drivers as a collective effort is vital. There are remarkable efforts underway, superb lessons in what can be done, but until they have stronger political priority and until the silo walls are broken they cannot meet the complex global challenge.
Dismantling complex systems that contribute to human trafficking and modern forms of slavery calls for transnational, regional, national, and very local action. The G20 Interfaith Forum, which I attended earlier this month in Osaka, demonstrated that faith-inspired actors, including international alliances of interfaith networks, organized religions, local faith-based organizations and religious groups, and individuals in every sector motivated by religious beliefs and values, as well as those with no belief, are all invaluable partners in every aspect of eradicating human trafficking and modern forms of slavery.
Governments, business, citizens and religious communities must stand together to demand and deliver products and services that are free from human trafficking and forced labor. One-third of goods and services are bought by governments. Accountability is key, and citizens deserve to know that their money paid in taxes will not fund criminal enterprises.
Ethical purchasing schemes include removing products that include modern slavery in supply chains can and should be adopted by other entities as well, including religious communities. Under international and many national laws, profit from human trafficking can be seized and utilized in fighting against the crime. But this needs to be widened to include any profit in anyway tainted by modern slavery.
Partnering and collective commitment and will towards identifying and enforcing these opportunities to make the crime financially non-viable is key.
Faith networks and organizations are often both international in scope and very local, with deep knowledge of victims and perpetrators. The on-the-ground work these organizations are engaged in to address root causes of vulnerability and provide psychosocial services to victims remains a largely untapped wealth of knowledge.
Even with strengthened partnerships, the level of ethical spending and enforcement needed is achievable only with better data to inform and enforce action against non-compliance. Increasing the capacity of countries to detect, systematically collect data, and report on trafficking cases is vital. Long term solutions can also only be found if comparative lessons are discerned. Serious data mapping is yet to be done on the situation in the most vulnerable and violent regions.
Policy and legal reforms and law enforcement need to go hand-in-hand with actions that address social and behavioral patterns that contribute to abuses. Here too partnerships between stakeholders play a vital role.
Finally, a key partner not to be forgotten or left behind are those who have directly experienced the horrors of the crime.
Calling a practice a crime and legislating against it is not enough. It is time for it to top the world’s agenda with renewed advocacy, accountability, and partnerships in action and not merely words.
Kevin Hyland (@KevinHyland63), OBE was the United Kingdom’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner and former head of the London Metropolitan Police Human Trafficking Unit.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.